MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The first police review advisory board in the state of West Virginia held its first public outreach meeting Thursday night in Morgantown.
Chairman of the Civilian Police Review and Advisory Board, Rich Burks, was excited to share their plans for the next year with about 40 residents.
“We want to take a look at policies and procedures, and you want to see if they’re complying with policies and procedures,” Burks said. “Does the policy or procedure even actually make anybody safe, or are you doing it to do it, or what is the real purpose?”
A major goal for this year is to compile annual data about arrests that would include age, sex, and race to develop an evidence-based analysis. On a micro level, members of the board want to know if body cameras are used properly or if there are instances of abuse of authority.
“When you’re doing an investigation, how do you do your investigation? Do you come in screaming and yelling, or are you using your eye? What do you see and what do you hear, and is there even a crime being committed?”
Board members told the 40 people in attendance that there were apparently no complaints for the last five years.
Members of the audience had anecdotal cases of racism, sexism, abuse of authority, and verbal abuse. Resident Mike Rockis said after he couldn’t find the complaint form online, he had to go to the Public Safety Building to request one. Rockis described the task as time-consuming and possibly intimidating for some, answering questions through bulletproof glass from several people before getting a copy of the form.
Because the board does not have investigative powers, Secretary Bob Cohen suggested that people with anecdotal cases could execute a sworn affidavit that could be submitted to the board; they could ask the police department about it.
“The complaint process for the Morgantown Police Department right now is relatively unknown,” Rockis said. “The documentation to support that on the civilian side is practically invisible.”
Police Chief Eric Powell attended and was appreciative to hear some of the questions and concerns from the police. Residents are able to share detailed accounts of things they’ve witnessed or been told in a low-stress environment.
“It’s a good first step,” Powell said. “I think it’s nice to have a forum to come and talk and try to figure out where people stand and how people feel.”
Powell said the two most important things he walked away with were how people perceive his officers in action and possibly some issues he’ll look into deeper brought from those in attendance.
“Criticism and perspective, Powell said. “I think meetings like this put things in perspective and maybe open your eyes to things you could do better.”